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In the Northern Hemisphere, from July through January, the Pegasus constellation—also known as The Winged Horse—sits proudly against the Northern night sky. Pegasus is one of the largest constellations in the sky, and contains various interesting deep space objects.
According to Greek mythology, it was Zeus, the god of sky and thunder, who honored his obedient winged horse by transforming him into a constellation. But the entire story is even more fascinating. Below, we’ve compiled 15 facts, myths, and answers to frequently asked questions about the Pegasus constellation.
Pegasus covers around 1,121 square degrees of the sky, and out of 88 modern constellations listed by the International Astronomical Union, it’s the 7th largest, outsized only by Eridanus, Hercules, Cetus, Ursa Major, Virgo, and Hydra (the largest constellation).
Pegasus was first cataloged by Greek astronomer, Ptolemy, in the 2nd century. Before that, on ancient tablets etched with cuneiform, Babylonians referred to The Great Square of Pegasus as Iku, or “field.”
The constellation of Pegasus is made up of more than 20 stars, but the 11 stars that have officially recognized names by the International Astronomical Union are Algenib, Alkarab, Alpheratz, Baham, Enif, Homam, Markab, Matar, Sadalbari, Salm, Helvetios, and Scheat.
So far, 12 of the stars in Pegasus are known to host planets. In fact, the first exoplanet orbiting a sun-like star to be discovered by astronomers is in Pegasus. The planet, formally known as Dimidium, orbits a normal star, now named Helvetios.
Pegasus has several interesting deep-sky objects, but the following three are most notable because of their features.
Pegasus is surrounded by 8 neighboring constellations. As long as you find one, you should be able to find the rest! Starting from the north and turning clockwise, the first bordering constellation is Lacerta, then Cygnus, Vulpecula, Delphinus, Equuleus, Aquarius, Pisces, and finally, Andromeda.
When it comes to constellation families, the differing constellations can be bound together by common features, defining characteristics, locations on the celestial sphere, or common mythological themes.
All the constellations in the Perseus family are connected somehow to the Perseus myth. Pegasus was born when Perseus decapitated his mother, Medusa. The other constellations in the Perseus family are Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Andromeda, Perseus, and Cetus.
Although they are not directly connected to the Perseus myth, Auriga, Lacerta, and Triangulum are also in the Perseus family.
Asterisms are recognizable patterns made by stars in the night sky. The Great Square of Pegasus is the large square-shaped asterism made by three of the brightest stars in Pegasus—Markab, Scheat, and Algenib—and Apheratz, which is a star from the neighboring constellation of Andromeda.
In Greek mythology, the Pegasus is a divine winged horse with powers over water, perhaps a power gained from the god who sired him—Poseidon, god of the sea. Pegasus and his brother, Chrysaor, were birthed when their mother, Medusa, was decapitated by Perseus.
There are various accounts of how they were birthed. In one version, Pegasus and Chrysaor spring from Medusa’s blood as Perseus beheads her. In another, the brothers are born from the Earth, when Medusa’s blood fell on her.
In another version, Pegasus and his brother were formed when Medusa’s blood, pain, and sea foam mixed. The addition of sea foam would imply that Poseidon was involved in the creation of both Pegasus and Chrysaor.
According to Greek myth, Pegasus was captured by Bellerophon, who rode him into battle against the monster, Chimera. Later, Bellerophon fell from Pegasus on his way to Mount Olympus. Bellerophon fell back to Earth, but Pegasus made it all the way to Olympus.
Zeus kept Pegasus with him in Olympus, and instructed him to take lightning and thunder down to earth. After a lifetime of obedience, Zeus transformed Pegasus into a constellation.
The brightest star in the Pegasus constellation is Enif, or Epsilon Pegasi. The word, “Enif”, comes from the Arabic word for “nose.” Epsilon Pegasi is an orange supergiant that’s around 12 times the mass of our sun. It’s believed that Enif is 12,250 times more luminous than the Sun.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the Pegasus constellation is visible from July to January. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Pegasus constellation gallops into the night sky from December to May.
One of the best ways to find Pegasus is to look directly up into the northern sky, and look for the Great Square of Pegasus. If you head out just after dark at the start of autumn, Pegasus will be rising in the east.
Pegasus is not the big dipper. In fact, the big dipper isn’t a constellation, it’s an asterism formed from seven stars within the Ursa Major constellation. But it is easily recognizable.
Pegasus is a constellation, but the four stars that create the Great Square of Pegasus, that are sometimes confused with the big dipper, are another prominent asterism.
Although the big dipper is not Pegasus, you can use it to guide your eyes (star hop) towards the Great Square of Pegasus.
The Pegasus constellation is, by far, one of the most interesting constellations in our night sky. If you have a good telescope, why not search for Caldwell 30, the Milky Way-like galaxy of Pegasus, for yourself? If not, you can still see all of Pegasus’s main stars with just your eyes.
Though it may look like a box with legs at first, on closer inspection, Pegasus transforms into a magical constellation full of surprises!
Featured Image Credit: Pike-28, Shutterstock
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Cheryl is a freelance content and copywriter from the United Kingdom. Her interests include hiking and amateur astronomy but focuses her writing on gardening and photography. If she isn't writing she can be found curled up with a coffee and her pet cat.
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